Warner Bros. Fight Facism
Hollywood, like most of America, largely ignored the growing threat of fascism in Europe in the 1930s. The exception was the Warner Brothers studio, headed by Jack and Harry Warner.
The Warners were deeply concerned about the rise of Nazism and they used their studio to speak out against fascism.
A complex combination of American isolationism and anti-Semitism led to a 1934 Production Code Administration (PCA was the Industry's content self-regulator) ban on anti-Nazi propaganda in films. Unfazed Jack and Harry Warner took their concerns directly to Washington and lobbied Congress and the President — whom they'd campaigned for in 1933 — to put an end to Hitler's rise to power.
Harry and Jack had come to America with their parents. The pleas they made to Washington to stop Hitler before he amassed greater power were driven by a personal knowledge of anti-Semitism. In private discussions with Roosevelt they offered suggestions on how he could circumvent America's strong isolationist stance.
The Warners demonstrated their commitment to fighting fascism by donating two Spitfire planes to the British. They also offered the use of the studio to the government, an offer the government wouldn't accept until a few years later.
It was Harry, the quieter, more religious brother, who saw the threat Nazism posed early on. He reacted by canceling a possible buy of the German studio, Universum. He also pushed his brother Jack to end all relations with Germany, which Warner Brothers did in 1934. They were the first studio to create anti-Hitler content, as well. In 1933, the animated Bosko's Picture Show portrayed Hitler as an incompetent ruler.
Two further films, Black Legion and Confessions of Nazi Spy brought criticism and condemnation from the PCA and the State Department but did not deter the Warners. The documentary-style Black Legion shed light on a fascist movement within the U.S.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy is considered the first film to feature Nazis as the enemy. The groundbreaking film, based on actual events, brought to light what might happen if Nazis infiltrated America. The PCA response was to ban all anti-Nazi films.
In 1941, the PCA's anti-Nazi rule was changed, and Warner Brothers went to work producing a series of patriotic shorts, some of which highlighted Nazi brutality but notably, not the plight of the Jews and others who were being murdered by the Nazis.
That same year, Warner Brothers produced Sergeant York, a film based on the true life-story of a WWI hero. The real York became a fine public speaker, often sparring against the pro-Nazi, anti-interventionist ideals of another American hero, Charles Lindbergh.
Isolationist senators in Washington, wanting to discourage Hollywood and especially Warner Brothers pro-war campaigning, launched the Nye-Clark hearings. Hollywood was accused of being a Jewish-controlled monopoly that conspired with Roosevelt to take America to war. Senator Nye went on to proclaim Hollywood Jews more of a problem than Hitler.
The Senate sub-committee hearings were halted when America entered the war in December, 1941. The President was quick to state the importance of the film industry to America's success in the war.
The Warner Brothers were now free to produce patriotic films for the duration of the War.